By Mary Kay Nelson
National parks continue to be important, even critical economic engines for local communities, with visitors generating $30.1 billion in economic activity and supporting 252,000 jobs nationwide in 2011. More than a third of that spending went directly into communities within 60 miles of a park. In the spending analysis report just released by Michigan State University, it was noted that for every $1 invested by American taxpayers on their parks, $10 is returned to their communities.
That is an excellent return on investment and one more reason to take tourism marketing seriously.
How does tourism marketing impact our Mount Rainier gateway communities? A recent report released for the National Park Service shows that in 2011, just over 1 million visitors to Mount Rainier National Park spent $33 million the gateway communities around the park. According to Tracy Swartout, deputy superintendent at the park, visitor spending supported approximately 450 jobs in the local communities, including just over 100 permanent jobs and up to 200 seasonal staff who work for the National Park Service, as well as an additional 150 jobs through commercial concession services.
Washington tourism facts:
• Tourism is the fourth-largest export industry in Washington, following software, aerospace and agriculture/food.
• Rural areas are more dependent on tourism than urban areas.
• Travel spending generates 15 percent of the local sales tax and hotel/motel taxes in eight non-urban counties. Visitor spending supports jobs in lodging, food and beverage, entertainment, transportation and retail, and drives tax revenue both locally and state wide.
• Mount Rainier visitation accounts for approximately 11 percent of the total travel spending in Pierce County.
Governor Inslee has included a line item in his budget for supporting the Washington Tourism Alliance, a not-for-profit tourism marketing organization that is trying to keep the “Visit Washington” message alive in our state. There is no such budget support from our Legislature. It is time to tell our legislators to recognize that marketing our gateway communities, and our state, is not just one more budget line item, but an investment in our communities and a proven revenue generator.
Mary Kay Nelson is executive director of Visit Rainier, an organization that promotes Mount Rainier-related tourism